Our story for the year 2020 is one of having our momentum put on hold and our bold expectations called into question … then finding a way to move forward nonetheless. It is a story of resilience.
As the pandemic turned everyone’s world askew, the University of Houston found itself initially unprepared to deal with it. But deal we did, our watch words through it all being flexibility and compassion.
While we could talk about our challenges, what it is really instructive is to talk about how we rose above them. In this report, you will find examples of perseverance and success. Before the pandemic, only 20% of our faculty had taught online and only 50% of students had taken a class. Those percentages shifted dramatically as we moved our instruction – and most campus operations – into the virtual realm. Validating this feat, summer enrollment increased 23% and we set an enrollment record for the fall, exceeding 47,000 students.
Other accomplishments abound. We concluded the “Here, We Go” campaign with an astounding $1.24 billion raised. We broke ground on stupendous new buildings for our medical school and law center. We gained three new national research centers. We continued climbing in national rankings, improving more than any other Texas university in the past five years.
Yes, the challenge continues. But so does our purpose and our persistence. Resilience allows us not to just float, but to forge ahead.
President, University of Houston
1. the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness.
The Big Shift
Before the pandemic hit, only 20% of University of Houston faculty had taught an online course, and only 50% of students had ever enrolled in one.
On March 23, that all changed.
Nearly 6,000 courses, more than 2,700 faculty and 46,000 students moved online to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. Student advising, career counseling and emotional support services went virtual, as well.
Moved online to mitigate the spread of COVID-19
It was a massive undertaking, motivated by necessity.
Administration adjusted to support students and faculty through the transition. The University loaned out over 300 laptops to students in need and rolled out a series of faculty trainings to help professors successfully navigate remote teaching.
In the interest of public health, all classes remained online for the summer, as well, but that didn’t deter students. The University saw a 23% increase in enrollment and a 36% increase in summer credit hours, year-to-year. To help ease students’ burdens, the UH System Board of Regents approved a waiver of summer fees.
It was the beginning of a “new normal” – a normal where UH faculty, staff and students rise to the occasion and overcome unexpected challenges with flexibility, compassion and innovation.
A normal where resilience takes center stage.
Reaching New Heights
Despite this year’s challenges, University of Houston students reached new academic heights.
Good academic standing for freshman students increased by 5%, year-to-year, and the number of freshmen completing 30-plus credit hours increased by 4% over the same time period. UH’s six-year graduation rate — a state and national graduation rate measure — increased by almost 30 percent, from 2014, to 62%, exceeding the U.S. News & World Report benchmark.
First-Year Student Success
While our student body excelled in the classroom, two Honors College students soared, winning distinguished, national awards.
An Honors College student and psychology major, was selected as a 2020 Frederick Douglass Global Fellow. The fellowship makes study abroad opportunities accessible to students from Minority Serving Institutions. She is one of just 10 college students from across the country to receive the respected award.
An Honors College student and political science major, was named a 2020 Truman Scholar by the Harry S. Truman Foundation. The Truman is widely regarded as one of the most esteemed national fellowships in the United States. Floyd is the second UH student to receive this honor and the first in 36 years.
In the midst of the pandemic, UH College of Medicine enrolled its founding class of 30 talented and diverse students. Each future physician was hand-picked for their commitment to primary care practice and ending health disparities in key communities.
The Great Transformation
The safety of University of Houston faculty, staff and students was the University’s top priority when deciding to return to in-person classes this fall.
Based on guidance from the medical community, the campus reopened with significant precautions to reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19. Numerous safety measures were implemented, including a mandatory face covering and social-distancing protocols, the reconfiguration of spaces for social distancing, installation of 500 touch-free hand sanitizer dispensers, 300 barriers for desks and other customer-facing spaces, over 800 touchless water faucets, foot openers for doors and touchless hand towel dispensers, among other potentially life-saving precautions. The facilities department also hired an additional 45 staff to do daily enhanced cleanings.
The campus was transformed to adapt to the “new normal.”
To reduce physical interactions, UH fully maximized remote learning and work without comprising its academic goals. In addition to remote courses, HyFlex instruction was added, which allows professors to teach some students in-person, as others learn online. More than 250 classrooms were equipped with video technology for Hyflex courses, and classrooms were sanitized nightly with electrostatic fogging machines. Staff were encouraged to work remotely as long as they could successfully perform their duties.
UH developed extensive safety protocols for testing, tracing and containment, as well. The Student Health Center offers testing for students, faculty and staff, 100 dorm rooms have been set aside for quarantining of students, over 150 professionals are certified to contact trace and COVID-19 safety training is mandatory for students, faculty and staff.
Raising the Bar
In spite of the uncertainty of COVID-19, University of Houston raised the bar this year by enrolling 47,100 students in the fall — the largest enrollment in the University’s history.
UH hit another high mark, in 2020, ranking among the best in several categories in the U.S. News & World Report Best Colleges 2021 rankings. The University earned a top 50 ranking as a “Top Performer for Social Mobility,” and landed on the lists for “Top Public Schools” and “Best Value Schools,” among others. Overall, UH moved up nine spots to rank 176th among all universities and 87th among all public universities in the nation in the report. In the last five years, the University has improved its Best Colleges ranking more than any other Texas university.
UH was also the only public school in Texas to make the CNBC “50 Colleges that Pay Off the Most” ranking, coming in No. 7 among public colleges. The list spotlights schools that provide students the highest average salaries for their tuition dollars. The ranking is well-earned as UH has the lowest student debt among all peer institutions in Texas, as well.
The University is investing more in its students than any other research institution in Texas, apart from those receiving the Permanent University Fund.
Life-Saving Discoveries: Game-Changing Faculty
As a Tier One research university, the University of Houston’s mission is to advance the frontiers of knowledge to improve lives. In thousands of labs and offices, our professors, post-doctorates and graduate students are working on innovative solutions to global challenges.
Notwithstanding COVID-19, UH researchers performed better this year than ever before, crossing the $200-million mark in total research expenditures. That’s resilient. In addition, the University received 32 major grant awards, which total $1 million or more, including a $10 million grant earned by Professor David Francis of the Department of Psychology to improve the learning abilities of non-English-speaking students in middle and high schools.
The University gained three new national research centers, in 2020, including the National Research and Development Center for English Language Learners, the HEALTH Center for Addictions Research and Cancer Prevention, and the Center for Integrated Catalysis. The additional centers bring UH’s total national research center count to eight.
With 41 filings, The University of Houston also registered a larger number of patents this year than ever before.
Responding to the immediate needs of societal problems has never been more critical in modern history, than now. Three UH researchers are doing just that to combat COVID-19.
Drawing from his expertise in biotherapies, Professor Shaun Zang in the Department of Biology and Biochemistry is developing an injectable vaccine that generates neutralizing antibodies, which can protect cells from infection by SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.
Professor Gomika Udugamasooriya in the Department of Pharmacological and Pharmaceutical Sciences is applying his cell-screening technology to develop treatments that can block coronavirus from entering the body. In partnership with industry, he is exploring nasal spray or eye drop products.
Professor Navin Varadarajan in the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering is developing a nasal inhalation vaccine to address a multitude of respiratory viruses, including COVID-19. UH has entered into an exclusive agreement with AuraVax Therapeutics Inc., a Houston-based biotech company, co-founded by Varadarajan, which will allow the company to license his novel COVID-19 vaccine.
When health care workers at home and across the country faced a shortage of personal protective equipment UH faculty stepped forward. Aaron McEuen, the instructional lab manager from the Gerald D. Hines College of Architecture and Design, worked with students to manufacture 1,000 shields for frontline health care workers at Harris Health System’s Ben Taub and Lyndon B. Johnson hospitals.
In the spring, when the Texas Medical Center reported a shortage of personal protective equipment, Dr. David Brammer, executive director and chief veterinarian of Animal Care Operations, and his team provided full-body overalls and air-purifying respirators to the TMC.
Professor Zhifeng Ren, director of the Texas Center for Superconductivity at UH, collaborated with Medistar, a Houston-based medical real estate development firm, to design an air filter that can entrap and kill the virus instantly. The filter is already in use at selected locations including a convention center, hotels and schools.
Professor Rheeda Walker in the Department of Psychology shared her expertise in coping with life during the pandemic and Black mental health on several media outlets, including “Good Morning America,” the Houston Chronicle, Men’s Health magazine and BET.
Faculty Winning Top Honors
Professor Cristina Rivera Garza of the College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences was one of only 21 in the country named a 2020 MacArthur Fellow. The fellowships, also known as “genius grants,” are among the most prestigious and generous awards given to those who have demonstrated extraordinary talent and dedication in academia, writing, music, film and other creative fields.
The National Academy of Inventors inducted four new members from the University of Houston faculty: Yuhua Chen, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering; Jason Eriksen, associate professor of pharmacology; Hung “Harry” Le, instructional assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering; and Yan Yao, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering.
Professor Pradeep Sharma of the Department of Mechanical Engineering was awarded the rare and honorable Guggenheim Fellowship, which is awarded to those who have demonstrated exceptional capacity for productive scholarship.
Jakoah Brgoch and Judy Wu of the Department of Chemistry were both chosen for the Sloan Research Fellowship, an honor that recognizes outstanding early-career faculty for their potential to revolutionize their fields of study.
Faculty Diversity: Representation Matters
University of Houston has one of the most diverse student bodies in the country and the University is working toward the same goal for its faculty. In 2014, UH established the Center for ADVANCING UH Faculty Success with a $3.3 million grant from the National Science Foundation. The grant helps universities increase female faculty in STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and math).
In the last 5 years, the number of ethnically and racially underrepresented faculty who are tenured or tenure-track at UH has increased by an impressive 42%.
The University’s results have garnered praise. The Chronicle of Higher Education published a feature on the institution’s diversity work titled, “You think you can’t afford to transform your faculty? The University of Houston begs to differ.”
Faculty Diversity Increase
Here, We Grow
Famed psychologist Abraham Maslow once said, “One can choose to go back toward safety or forward toward growth. Growth must be chosen again and again; fear must be overcome again and again.”
Here, we grow. Not just academically but physically, as well.
While some construction projects have been put on pause, due to the pandemic, others were completed or underway thanks to construction-designated funds from donor gifts, or state or bond funding.
This fall the new Quad residential housing opened, adding almost 1,200 beds. The new building features five unique outdoor courtyards, study rooms, a computer lab, 257 four-bedroom suites, 35 single-bedroom units and seven townhomes. It is named after the historic Quadrangle residential area that opened in 1950.
UH College of Medicine Building
Slated to open in the summer of 2022, the three-story, 130,000-square-foot building is being constructed on 43 acres at Martin Luther King Boulevard north of Old Spanish Trail. It will feature modern classroom and meeting spaces, and state-of-the-art anatomy and simulation suites.
The John O’Quinn Law Building
Construction began this spring on the new $93-million law building that will reside between University Lofts and the current Law Center. The new, high-tech complex will enhance the educational experience while also serving as a hub to engage and serve the public.
McElhinney Renovation for the Hobby School for Public Affairs
McElhinney Hall is undergoing an $8.8 million renovation to house the re-branded and enlarged Hobby School of Public Affairs. The renovated space will include contemporary classrooms, office space, conference rooms, a state-of-the-art auditorium and collaborative space.
Second Tower for the Conrad N. Hilton College of Hotel and Restaurant Management Building
The addition of a five-story, 70-guest room tower will increase the hotel’s total number of rooms to 150 and enhance students’ experiential learning. The existing hotel will add executive meeting space and renovate 80 guest rooms, the lobby and other public spaces.
Here, We Go
When the University of Houston moved to remote learning in the spring, many students didn’t have the tools for virtual education and faced financial stresses due to job loss. UH called on donors to help students in need and raised more than $1 million for the Cougar Emergency Fund.
The $1 billion University of Houston system “Here, We Go” campaign concluded in August with an astounding $1.24 billion raised, exceeding expectations. More than 186,000 donors gave to the worthy cause, including 133,000 who contributed to UH for the first time.
“Here, We Go” is supporting hundreds of students with a $215-million fund specifically designated for scholarships and fellowships, 54 endowed professorships and chairs, the new construction or renovation of 29 buildings and 12 new or existing centers and institutes.
Two years ago, the University began a new tradition to celebrate the University’s March 7 birthday — the creation of UH Giving Day, a special day set aside to give back to UH. This year, 6,000 donors stepped up and gave $11 million.
Cougars accomplished something that hadn’t been done in 30 years. For two years in a row, the No. 21 ranked men’s basketball program was named the 2020 American Athletic Conference Champions. The last time the team won back-to-back, regular-season championships was in 1983 and 1984, when UH made it to the NCAA tournament final.
Women’s Swimming and Diving, Men’s Indoor Track and Field and Women’s Indoor Track and Field also won conference championships. Moreover, for the first time in UH history, all 17 sports programs finished with 3.0 or higher grade-point averages this past spring.
Men’s Basketball Team Named 2020 American Athletic Conference Champ
Sadly, legendary UH Coach Bill Yeoman passed away this year. It is not possible to talk about UH Athletics without talking about this UH icon. Coach Yeoman coached the Cougars for a remarkable 25 seasons, from 1962 to 1986, and was the first representative from the University to be inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame. His 160 victories are the most in Houston’s history. Off the field, Yeoman played a key role early in the integration of college athletics with the signing of running back Warren McVea in 1964 as the Cougars’ first Black football student-athlete. His memory will forever live on in Cougar hearts.